Chris Wilson smilingSometimes, fully leaning into your passion leads to unimaginable opportunities. That was my approach after failing just one course before graduating with a biochemistry degree from Waterloo. That roadblock helped me to lean into the hobby I’d started at 16 years old and built upon throughout my initial undergraduate years. I was going to be a full-time DJ. 

It was a far cry from what I thought I wanted to be but having worked in sterile white labs during my co-op work terms, I quickly realized there wasn’t much room for my personality to shine. So I decided that I’d chart my own unconventional course, live my life with curiosity and without regrets. 

This mindset led me to tour the country before moving to the U.K., doing the thing that brought immense joy to my life. DJing was more than just being booked to play at parties, I was curating spaces and atmospheres for people to revel in their moments of happiness. I did it for almost 10 years before realizing I wasn’t being seen in the spaces that I was working in.  

As a Black man operating in predominantly white spaces, my blackness was making it increasingly difficult to progress within the environments I’d given so much to. I realized that it would no longer be feasible for me to continue doing what I loved and make a living from it. The same was true for a lot of other artists who looked like me. 

Coming to this realization meant I would have to give my all to something new, and I had to do some deep soul-searching to figure out who I was and what I wanted to do with the skills I’d gained over the years. 

At 30 years old, I was again at a crossroads, and all I knew was that I wanted my job — whatever it would be — to have a meaningful impact. I was particularly interested in a job that would allow me to deliver support or advance change for Black creators and artists. I became curious about creating spaces where they can have access to tools that would help them see a future for themselves.  

All I knew was that I wanted my job ... to have a meaningful impact.

Chris Wilson (BSc ’21)

That’s when I knew I would become a cultural programmer. To get there I also knew I had to finish that one course I failed many years earlier so I could move on to something that would help me pursue all the things I am curious about.  

I’m now back in school pursuing a Master of Design degree in Strategic Foresight and Innovation, where I’m exploring Black futures and looking at how to help organizations support activists and community organizers to advance change. I’m happy being in this phase of life where I am seen and valued for the gifts and solutions I get to share with my community.